EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an edited and condensed version of a paper written for MCJ 300, which teaches Journalism students how to write for the Internet and other multimedia projects. By Mariah Reed and Clayton Chapman.
This year has been one that will not soon be forgotten. Classes were pushed online in March when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Students physically left campus the week before spring break and returned in August. Classes have entered into more flexible schedules online, with many students experiencing hybrid learning environments for the first time.
We recently asked students about their experiences this semester, including how they handled COVID-19 and online classes. They had a lot to say.
Many students have had some kind of experience with COVID-19, whether personal or not. Many students have struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the stay at home and social distancing orders.
This has especially been a touch time for students that have just graduated high school. It has been tough to meet new people and make friends now than in years past due to the increased restrictions from COVID-19 protocols.
“I guess the main thing I would say the transition from high school to college as a freshman, a lot of those introductory things you do to meet new people have been cancelled as a result of COVID or turned into a virtual format so that has been kind of difficult,” Christian Glass, a freshman kinesiotherapy major, said.
Many students also struggled with adapting to online classes. They needed to find new ways to socialize and make new friends while keeping everyone safe, adding onto an overall “new normal” with COVID-19.
“It’s been difficult. I’d say it’s not normal the way that we’re living now, but you just have to adapt to it. It’s hard not seeing your friends or family members all the time or not being able to socialize like we are used to,” Thomas Gee III, a biochemistry major, said.
Since COVID-19 made everything go online, students have felt that they aren’t getting the education that they’ve paid for.
“It’s not the normal way of learning that I’m used to, but I know that my professors are trying,” said Gee. “Sometimes I feel like I’m teaching myself more than learning the traditional way.”
Some students also feel that their mental health has been affected since classes and social gatherings have gone online. Cynthia Myles, a junior political science major, said that this semester has affected her more mentally and emotionally than ever before.
“COVID-19 has taken a toll on my life in many aspects mentally with school,” said Myles.
Most students feel that their biggest problem this semester is dealing with the technical difficulties of technology. Many professors are so used to doing things with paper and pencil that they’ve struggled to figure out how to use online programs and webcams.
“With my classes, my biggest issue is technology,” said Myles. “[A] lot of my professors are not educated enough on how to use Zoom or WebEx.”
Students also feel that the amount of work that they’re receiving is a lot more than usual. They believe that, since classes are now online, teachers have started giving many more assignments. This only added onto rampant feelings of anxiety and stress.
Currently, there are 5,932 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the counties that surround Southern Miss. Of those, 83 cases have resulted in death in Forrest County, while 46 cases have resulted in death in Lamar County. Within the city of Hattiesburg, there have been about 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Moffitt Health Center, the main medical center for Southern Miss, has recently reported that a total of 297 students and 19 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 from Aug. 5 to Nov. 7. This includes data from the athletics department, which constantly monitors for COVID-19 symptoms, contributing to the campus’s 1,659 negative tests.
On Nov. 11, Governor Tate Reeves made an executive order to extend the mandatory mask mandate within the city limits of Hattiesburg until Dec. 12.
As the fall semester starts to come to an end, students have wondered how next semester will turn out, considering how different this semester has been. Students have said that the university’s plan to move things virtually has been really helpful because the teachers are doing a great job in making sure that they are still connecting with others, even if they may not get to see them in class.
“I’m usually an introvert, but when you are made to stay in the house things can be different, COVID-19 took a toll on my social skills,” said Myles.
COVID-19 has also made many changes to students living on and off campus. Students aren’t able to socialize the way they would normally do, everyone must wear masks and stay six feet apart to prevent getting sick.
“It’s very different from what I thought college would be like, as COVID-19 started happening it has made things really different,” said freshman Aberee Lucius.
As of Oct. 1, 2020, Southern Miss announced a condensed academic calendar for the spring 2021 semester. There have been many adjustments to holiday times and commencement ceremonies, with an effort to limit the amount of travel and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Spring classes will begin January 20 and end April 22, with exams taking place the final week of April.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s response to COVID-19 has actually gone pretty well considering the tough times we’re facing. The University made adjustments to the academic calendar as needed over the fall semester. They constantly stressed the importance of students “doing their part” by wearing their masks, keeping their distance, washing their hands and checking for symptoms before coming to school each day.
As school started Aug. 17, the University changed their response to follow in step with the academic calendar and the Center of Disease Control’s guidelines. Many events that usually take place for students were either canceled or made digital due to COVID-19, which disappointed some students.
“It’s hard not seeing your family members all the time, it’s hard to adapt to the changes that are being made on campus due to COVID-19,” said Gee.
The University of Southern Mississippi has a “COVID-19 Response Status Code” that they follow in order to keep people safe. There are five colors that are a part of the code, and each color represents the protocols and procedures that the university must follow regarding COVID-19. As of writing, Southern Miss is in the “yellow”, meaning the university has implemented comprehensive health protocols and adapted traditional course work, select student services and select operations into virtual formats.
Most students feel that the university and staff are doing their best despite the circumstance. They love that teachers are still able to communicate with their students and make sure they get proper education while dealing with COVID-19.
“I was able to create my own schedule, and was also able to take classes online and one in person, and since I’ve taken classes online, I’ve gotten the best grades that I’ve probably ever gotten by taking them online,” Kaylie Beck, a Southern Miss volleyball player, said.
However, other students have also slacked off with online schooling. Many students received XFs on their permanent transcripts this semester for violating our USM Academic Integrity Policy. The university’s policy states that any cheating, plagiarism, lying, stealing, multiple submissions or conspiracy are a violation of the Academic Policy and is strictly prohibited. An XF is considered the same as an “F”, but any student with honors may not be allowed to graduate if they have an XF grade. These students can also be suspended or expelled from the university.
Considering the circumstances, we believe this semester has been successful in part due to all the safety protocols put into place by the University. Things have been undoubtedly different this semester, but students have handled and adapted to it well. If nothing else, they were able to return to Southern Miss while many other colleges remain online only. Students should still keep up with any and all safety protocols the university has in place in order to ensure Southern Miss can remain open enough to maintain in-person learning.